Betwixt Astrea and the Scorpion Sign
On that idyllic night, a lonely tour boat surrounded only by the sea held onto the fate of our dear hero. With a string tied to his wrist, leaning on his back, reminded of the last time he’d fished, he waited— patiently waiting for a bite, a moment that would cut tranquility, shape stillness into motion. As he waited for his bait to act as another pawn in the immense, interminable, anarchical game of the sea, below swam gilled beasts chasing one another in universal cannibalism.
Regardless of ebb and flow, the innumerable channels and routes, transformations and vectors, the smooth space that is the ocean waters has never changed; the floor on which the tour boat floated was shared by the whalers, the amateur navigators, the first of men that dared step outside his realm, attempt to subdue that which cannot bow or bend, that which kneels to one, respects nothing except that which does not touch her skin. Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean—roll! because forever and ever, to the crack of doom, the sea will insult and murder man, and pulverize the stateliest, stiffest frigate he can make.
At that moment, Brix felt the ship a bubble; disjointed from everything else, its float was a rebellion, an expulsion. But the world hadn’t expelled the ship like a black sheep or a bad egg, rather the ship had expelled the world, rejecting its force, pulling away, leaving it one limb the less. The five residents of the ship occupied their own world, their own unique experience, their unique existence. He felt a savage glow of a feeling, an aura that wrapped not only him but this newfound world within a world. It was as if his head were filled with helium, a feeling perhaps only understood by the vainglorious priest walking out of his mass, the believer utterly convinced of having found the truth, the devil having successfully deceived through a deal.
“Fishing is the most benevolent hunt. Honorable for survival sake, beautiful for all one must do is wait,” said Black, settling his weight, sitting on fine tags, leaning his mouth towards Brix, dragging to an identical hook and string. Illuminated only by the spectacular originals of nature, Brix could barely make out the silhouette of Black, peeling away the first hours of the night.
“Do you believe in luck?”
“Luck?” said Brix, but getting no answer at his question, continued thus, “somehow or another we all trust, no? Somehow or another, luck or some form of it follows whether we believe or not.”
“Ha, I knew you to be superstitious enough. I rather think Luck a goddess, loyal only to the believers, granting favors to the faithful.”
“Faith? If she’s a goddess then why demand it?” Brix said, stirring his bucket of catch by his side: two swimming mackerel, five-inch apiece.
“Have you not noticed the nature of growth? Just like a plant demands light in order to stretch its flesh— more, more, more; just like a fire that consumes to grow; we all enjoy a good gorge. And gods too: they feast on faith, endlessly—” but Black stopped himself short, in a mumble of sorts. Then again he cut the delicate darkness with his voice: “the demand of faith is the nature of any god; they feed on it; it creates growth out of the air; it molds their limbs, synthesizes their bones— it is, really, their only mode of existence.”
Black’s words were as if shrouding the light from the stars, as if thickening the darkness; his words seemed un-synced with his lips as if lagging a moment or two behind. Although Brix could make out but a feature or two out his face, the thin movement of his velvet lip was drawn out, brushed red behind that translucent watercolor night.
“Here,” said Black, shifting his weight, stretching his palm, bouncing it off Brix’s belly. “For luck’s sake.”
Brix could nearly smell the silver weight, a doubloon of strange descent. Accepting, he inspected the foreign features an inch from his eyeball. Carved on one side was the sign of the sun above a crowing cock; on the other stared forth the immortalized face of a hero wrapped in an insignia, an axiom of culture: unusquisque tantum juris habet, quantum potential valet. The awful, elliptical, writing seemed a corrupted passage from a forgotten book, a token passed through enough hands to make even a collector sick. All-in-all, the coin was like a flame bathed in shame.
“From my country. Keep it: a souvenir.”
But his lips moved not. Rather, they began to mouth mute words a second or two later; yet they mouthed a much longer thought, a phrase which Brix was idle, distracted, and intrigued enough to ignore. And he kept to his mumble (whatever it was) until another voice broke into the stillness.
“Ah, look here, look here at the beauty I have caught!” The guide had fished out a sea snake of a good squirm. Through the night mist, an electrician of an eel with its under lip hooked on bait struggled, twisted in despair, illuminated the joy in its captor’s features; each flash stroked the shake of his arm in a sort-a stop motion, lit only in moments by the tussle of the artifact, in its dance with death.
“Look at the handsome electrician,” he continued through laughter, “my, my, hand me a crown, well make him a prince!”
Of course, this was an artifact, an electric fish.
“A fine fake you are,” he continued, addressing the shaking mechanic now held in his fist by the tail, “your wings are a pair of pliers, your crest a formal complaint, a hectic excuse, a—” but he could not contain his contagious laugh.
“So what is it of these artificial beasts plaguing this sea?” asked Black to his companion, who wished not too, but followed him forth in chit-chat.
“It scares away the tourists— they say only a Sepian can tell two apart.”
“Ah, so— can you?”
And while laughter traveled still through the emptiness of the surrounding sea, the cook made an invisible move and fished out the true beauty of the day. Although Brix could not see, he felt the monsters leap out of the sea, and back again, and again, it hit the hull, it sink; but pulled by the cook’s sheer strength and will, reeling it in with the yarn tied to his waist, it leaped again yet onto the deck—squirming his full kilo and a ton. His strength made for water shook on a plateau it had never before felt. Illuminated by the lantern-like light held by the guide, in one clean motion, the cook leaped from above, kukri in hand, lunging first into the breast of the beast, then taming the behemoth’s last breath with his clever, carving a clean wound in the left hemisphere of his brain.
Under everyone’s evanescent eyes— and even the discretion of the electrician that still squirmed on the hook— lay dead an authentic white-fin marlin twice the size of its killer. Brix observed it as if it were a film: in cold mute awe. The cook dragged his trophy, past the door, past the veil, into the kitchen. Thick blotches of blood floated on the wood. Gulls fluttered and flew unable to follow the food into the common room. The guide threw his light back into the sea, and the stillness of darkness could not help but settle again.
Eleven— eleven: a feast.
Cooked before them in a bath of molasses and lecithin, prickled with leaves of thyme and mint, decorated with the thickets illuminating leaves, a white-fin marlin lay dead with its entrails fluffed out of their raw pinkishness into bubbling spheres, like clouds of a serene daydream. A wonder how it had been cooked, for (with the exception of the fin, which had been crafted into white-fin stew as an appetizer) not a section of the catch had been cut; the fish took the entirety of the table and more— whereas a pair of stilts had been improvised to keep cheek and tail from pulling the entire monster under. For the sake of ease of access, the chairs had been arranged around the fish, and the guests were instructed to fill their bellies by picking at the meat, and then directly from marlin to mouth.
They ate away, transferring the marlin’s preserved and accumulated energy into their bones, fat into their guts, protein into their skulls. Pleasure hopped from head to head in dance, in glee; throwing tulips, sun and willows like flower girls ahead of the bride, letting loose bunches at a time to strip the soon-to-be of her innocence in a ceremony, enjoying herself as much as the four who ate and ate and ate.
In between mouthfuls, pauses of digestion and indigestion, gulps of glasses of ice-water, a fragment of the evening social hour went as such:
“Yes, it’s quite the method of beginner interpretation.”
“Tell me: what is it of this oneiric obsession in your country?”
“What about it?”
“In a few days of wonder and chatter while visiting, I couldn’t help but get whirled into listening to eccentrically detailed dreams, rambling on about interpretation and symbols, metaphysics and such.” shaking his hand like a turbine signaling triviality of prolongation. “The detail— my, the detail these souls could recollect and remember… borderline paranoiac, really.”
“It’s part of the port’s politics, and they’ll try inculcating any bystander with—”
“Pish-posh,” a pause, then, “It’s not politics; it’s culture… and personally, I find it fine.”
“Dreams are the second-half of man… and unfortunately, in retrograde, half always subdued. I pity the souls that ignore the signs and premonitions that invade them each and every night. They are blind men watching a world of shadows, cooped up in a cavern, utterly convinced nothing else exists beyond their sight.”
“Ah, it is not often one encounters an authentic dreamer amongst the party!”
“Often enough at the port…”
“Whatever is your aversion to dreams anyways?”
“They are deceitful and malleable: any with ease of authority or information can manipulate their content, devise theories lacking proof, and catch stray souls into their net— poor souls looking only for an affirmation.”
“And are you yourself a dreamer?” chiming in.
“Like any and all. But I allow the images to flow instead of catching and distorting, pretending and polishing imagined truths.”
“Tell us a dream, then. Surely you remember one.”
“I prefer not to,” chewing on sautéed flesh, licking his teeth with his tongue.
“Why not ask the poet?”
“Always so quiet, Walter— let us for once hear your thoughts.”
“O, well…” catching the tail end of the talk, “I have dreamt much of gulls lately.”
“Gulls?” a smirk: a smile: a mock. “And have you yet made out the meaning?”
A quiet ponder, and mouthfuls of course.
“Perhaps an urge for freedom, or hope to—”
“Gulls symbolize but one thing back where we’re from. Give it some thought, gooney… give it some thought.”
“And whatever might that be?”
“How about some detail? Let us hear a story.”
“Alright,” straightening his guise, “a night or two ago I dreamt of gulls pecking away at my flesh… they were as if trying to take away something, I suppose, and… O, I remember one expressing my lack of soul…” and, joking at his own expense: “Perhaps they were trying to rob it off of me.”
“Talking hens and mad roosters, allow me to interpret: you must feel quite fragmented, my boy; the birds are but slices of your soul, each fighting for a piece of the others, in chase, each—”
“There is a simple way to extract the meaning, of course,” interrupting, and thank goodness— what a quack of a guess.
“And that is?”
“Free association, of course.”